Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Detective Chang Apana - Hawaii's First Action Hero

Detective Chang Apana was really Hawaii's first action hero.  He once arrested forty suspects all by himself in Chinatown, with no backup at all.   That is an accomplishment that has never been equaled in the historical records of the Honolulu Police Department.  Here are some of Chang Apana's exploits as described in my forthcoming book "Charlie Chan's Hawaii":

"Fred Kramer, retired Captain of the Guards at Oahu Prison and Halawa Jail, had some interesting reminiscences about Detective Chang Apana.  Kramer actually saw Apana in action leaping from roof to roof in Chinatown, like a human fly. In appearance, Kramer recalls, 'Apana looked so frail that one slap could break him apart.' "

"Apana, though fragile in appearance, was in reality a very tough man.  Once while attempting to raid a gambling game, he was hurled from a second story window, but like the proverbial cat, he landed miraculously, on his feet unhurt.  Another time when arresting a dangerous Filipino suspect, he was slashed across the stomach with a knife. Again he emerged unscathed as the knife landed on a broad belt that he was wearing."

"Apana had another close brush with death during the arrest of a prison escapee. He was assigned with Chief of Detectives Arthur McDuffie, and Assistant Chief John Kellett to capture a Korean, who had broken out of jail, and who was known to be a desperate character when cornered.

They finally located their quarry, hiding under a house. When he was ordered to come out the suspect replied with a fusillade of shots, one of the shots boring the palm of Kellett's hand.  More shots followed that narrowly missed hitting McDuffie and Apana.  In a lull between the shots being exchanged between the escaped felon and the officers, Apana sneaked around the end of the house, while the other two officers held the fugitive at bay.  In the twinkling of an eye, Apana pounced on the escaped prisoner.  He was in the midst of life and death struggle when the other two officers came to his rescue.  At the end of this ordeal, Apana was in such bad shape, that he had to be taken to the hospital for a week to recuperate."

Please click on video widget below to watch "The Legend Of Chang Apana" that was produced by Jon Brekke, for Oceanic Creative Services.
It is the pilot for a projected TV series that hopefully will be in production soon.  Unfortunately, though,  they got Detective Chang Apana's badge number wrong.  It's supposed to be badge number 100, not badge number 352.  When the series finally gets going they should have technical advisers on hand to catch mistakes of this kind.  The creators of "The Legend Of Chang Apana", have put together incredible graphics, along with a script that has a smooth contemporary feel to it, to tell the exciting story of Detective Chang Apana.  It stars Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa as Chang Apana.  This movie is hip, slick, intelligent, and very now!  My congratulations go out to the makers of "The Legend Of Chang Apana", for doing such an outstanding job!

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Visit To Detective Chang Apana's Grave

Manoa Chinese Cemetery
Detective Chang Apana's Grave Site
A View Of Waikiki From The Cemetery

It is very difficult to find Detective Chang Apana's grave site in the Manoa Chinese Cemetery, so I prepared a video that literally walks you to his grave.  The area in which Chang Apana is buried is well maintained, but this was not the case in 1982 when, with great difficulty, I first located the site.  Read this post: Yours Truly At Detective Chang Apana's Grave In 1982  If you are a visitor who is staying in Waikiki, it is very easy to get to the Manoa Chinese Cemetery by bus.  Go to Kuhio avenue, and take the number 13 bus going east.  Get off at the University of Hawaii, then transfer to the number 6.  That will take you up to the cemetery.  You can download a FREE copy of this video in the MP4 format, that will play on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod from this link: A Visit To Detective Chang Apana's Grave  You may want to take it with you when you visit the cemetery just in case you get lost.  Safe journeys to all the fans of Charlie Chan's Hawaii, wherever you may be.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Charlie Chan's Hawaii

The photo featured above is a facsimile from the first page of a two page article about my Detective Chang Apana / Charlie Chan research.  It was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on August 22, 1982.  The article was written by Susan Yim.  The truth about Chang Apana, was finally revealed to the people of Hawaii, and the world for the first time.  Needless to say, this article created a sensation in Hawaii, the reverberations of which, are still being felt today.

Below you will find two short excerpts from my forthcoming book "Charlie Chan's Hawaii".  Here is a portion of the actual Prologue, and the first paragraph from Chapter One from my book.


It was in the spring of 1981 that I first became enchanted with Charlie Chan.  At that time a New York TV station was presenting a “Charlie Chan Festival” for two weeks.  I watched it every night, and was thrilled by the expert performances of Warner Oland, and Sydney Toler as Charlie Chan.  The movies were quaint and charming, but underneath this veneer I sensed something else.  There was an undercurrent of urgency in the Chan films that made them so exciting.  Much of the action occurred psychologically, and to any sensitive or astute person, these mind games are powerfully seductive.  The films assumed their own cognizant reality in my mind, and night after night, I watched them with complete fascination, awe, and wonder.  Instead of watching a TV screen, I had the distinct feeling that I was looking through a magical window.  The TV screen became an anomaly, and I actually felt transported back into time.  I had then, and still do, an inexplicable feeling that these films were somehow to be very important to me.  These same feelings recurred time and time again as I began my search for the real Charlie Chan.

It was in the spring of 1982 that I found an anthology of Charlie Chan novels on the bargain counter at a local bookstore.  Opening the cover, I read this blurb on the inside of the book jacket.  “On vacation in Honolulu in 1919, Earl Derr Biggers was impressed by a newspaper account of a Chinese detective named Chang Apana.  Six years later, Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police made his appearance in “The House Without A Key” and was an instant success.”

You can just imagine my excitement upon reading this!  I decided immediately to begin a research project on the life of Detective Chang Apana, who allegedly, was the model for Charlie Chan.  I felt that if I could get the University of Hawaii interested in this project, I could do it as an Anthropology directed reading course.

I did some preliminary research on Chang Apana, and then presented my findings to Professor Stephen Boggs of the Anthropology Department at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.  He became excited by my discoveries, and authorized a directed reading course to be done under his auspices.  Professor Boggs suggested to me the form that the project should take.  It was to be researched essentially in three parts:  (1) “Chang Apana as Charlie Chan”, (2) “Chang Apana the Legend”, and (3) “Chang Apana the Man”.

The Quest:

 I began my quest for the real Charlie Chan in the Hamilton Graduate Library located on the campus of the University of Hawaii.  I spent hours going over microfilm of back issues of the Honolulu Star Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser.  Through the use of the newspaper indexes and a bit of serendipity, I started to piece together a nice picture of Chang Apana, but it was still sketchy.  I wanted to prove that Chang Apana really was the original of Charlie Chan.  The information that I gleaned from various newspaper accounts strongly suggested that he was the original Chan, but there was no direct proof.  The evidence was at best second-hand, or decidedly circumstantial.

 I can across a Star Bulletin article written in 1976 by Susan Yim entitled, “The Real Charlie Chan?”  Yim was not able to pin down any definite proof that linked Apana with Chan.  Acting on a hunch, I phoned Yim.  She was very personable.  I told her about my project and she seemed very interested in it.  We compared notes and she told me that if I came across anything definitive about Apana, to please let her know, as she was anxious to follow up on it.  In the Yim article there was a mention of an H. C. Ching, a retired Honolulu Police officer who knew Apana.  I phoned Ching and he gave me a delightful anecdote which I used in my completed project.

The Magic Begins:

 I felt that it was very important at this stage of my research to get as much documented information as I could on Chang Apana.  My next stop was to visit the Hawaii State Department of Health.  I wanted to secure a copy of Apana’s death certificate.  I knew that there would be a lot of valuable information contained on it.  At the counter of the Hawaii Department of Health, I filled out the form required to obtain a death certificate.  I took the completed form to the window.  The clerked asked me if I was a relative of Apana.  I told her that I was not.  She told me that as a general rule, only relatives of the deceased may obtain copies of a death certificate.  I told her that I needed it for a research project.  She asked me to wait for a moment as she would take it up with her supervisor.  I spoke to the supervisor, and he told me that there was only one person who could authorize the issuance of Apana’s death certificate to me, and that person was Dr. Thomas Burch, the Chief of the Hawaii State Department of Health.  The supervisor ushered me in to see Dr. Burch.  I explained to him about my Apana research and why I needed the death certificate.  Dr. Burch seemed fascinated by my project and he issued Apana’s death certificate to me.  Amazingly, all of these negotiations only took about five minutes.  The magic started to begin.  Apana’s death certificate was full of very pertinent data essential for the successful completion of my project.  From then on, no door remained closed to me in my inquires about Apana.
Chapter One:
"Madam Pele does not give up any of her native sons without a struggle.  Such was the case during the month of December in 1933. Mauna Loa crater began its eruption on December 2nd, coinciding with a turn for the worse in the health of Chang Apana, who had been admitted to Queen's Hospital in Honolulu, on that same day.  The volcano flared up again on December 8, the day the 'Black Camel' knelt at the door of the Apana home.  The molten lava spewing forth from the Mokuaweoweo vent was Madame Pele's way of shedding black tears of sorrow over the earthly passing of Apana."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yours Truly At Detective Chang Apana's Grave In 1982

This picture was taken in 1982 at the beginning of my research on the life of Detective Chang Apana.  The gravestone to the right is that of  Apana.  The little boy on my lap is my nephew Andrew who is now a grown man.  If you had visited Apana's grave site recently, you would have noticed that the surrounding area is kept in a much better condition than it was in 1982.  In fact, Apana's grave had been "lost" for quite some time, and it was only with the expert help of the cemetery caretaker Tommy Wong, that I was  able to find the grave at all!  It had been totally overgrown with weeds and tall grass.  I worked on clearing and cleaning up  the site for some weeks to get it in the condition that you see in the photograph above.  I will be revisiting Detective Apana's grave site soon, and I will post video of it on this blog.  It will be a video tour that will make it easier for all to find his grave as it is in an out-of-the-way section of the Manoa Chinese Cemetery.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel - A Major Location For The Filming Of "The Black Camel" (1931)

I recently visited the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, also known affectionately as the "The Pink Palace".  Many scenes from the 1931 Charlie Chan movie "The Black Camel", were filmed there.  You might find this surprising, that even though I was born, raised, and lived my whole life in Hawaii, I had never visited the Royal Hawaiian Hotel before!  What makes this even more interesting is that I only live a couple blocks away from it.  The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is magnificent, and one can sense the history of the place just by walking around its gorgeous lobby.  I spoke to some of the staff about my forthcoming book "Charlie Chan's Hawaii", and also the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's connection with "The Black Camel".  They were enchanted, and to help me with my research, they gave me a free copy of the book "The Pink Palace", written by Stan Cohen, which is a lovely and succinct history of the famous hotel.  The picture at the top of this post is the actual cover of the book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Detective Chang Apana's Induction Into The Honolulu Police Department's Hall Of Fame

On May 15, 2008, Detective Chang Apana was inducted into the Honolulu Police Department's Hall Of Fame, a distinction that was completely justified, albeit somewhat belated.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Detective Chang Apana

It is not well known that Detective Chang Apana, who lived in Hawaii, was the prototype for the fictional detective Charlie Chan, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. In 1982 I proved that this was true in a paper that I wrote for a class at the University of Hawaii. I later used that paper in 1990, as the seed for a masters’ thesis, called “Modern History of Hawaii”.

On August 22, 1982, Susan Yim, of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, wrote a full page and a half article about my Charlie Chan project: The article was called “In Search Of Charlie Chan”. The article was laid out in art deco style: It was visually stunning, and beautifully written.

I’m now completing a book that I wrote called “Charlie Chan’s Hawaii”, which will detail the life of Chang Apana, along with other information pertaining specifically to Charlie Chan and Hawaii. Included with the book will be a CD that contains recorded interviews that I made in 1982 with Chang Apana’s number one first cousin Walter Wan Chang, and Apana’s daughters, Rose Chang Murakami, Cecilia Landgraf, and Annie Robertina Apana. These recordings are very rare because Walter Wan Chang, and Chang Apana’s daughters are now deceased.

There a a number of items of items that appear in the Charlie Chan novels that can be linked directly, or indirectly with Chang Apana. In “The Black Camel” (1929), it is mentioned that Chan’s oldest daughter is named Rose. Chang Apana’s youngest daughter was named Rose. In the “House Without A Key” (1925), the captain of detectives is named Hallet. From 1923 to 1927, a man named Kellett was the Captain of Detectives of the Honolulu Police Department. In “The Black Camel” Charlie Chan laments “…there has been upheaval in local police department…”, as a result Chan gets promoted to the rank of inspector. On February 20, 1928, Chang Apana is promoted to Detective First Grade, after a major police scandal. Before becoming a policeman, Chan worked for a wealthy white family, the Jordans. The same can be said of Apana who worked for the Wilder family as a hostler. Both Chan and Apana were excellent cooks. Apana was chef in charge of a big luau that was given for the Prince of Wales when he visited Honolulu. Chan lived on Punchbowl hill, while in 1908, Apana lived on Punchbowl near Hotel Street. Chan worked very slowly and meticulously on cases…”I have never been demon for speed…” (“The Black Camel”). The same can be said of Apana. In their respective modus operandi on cases, both Chan and Apana worked alone. Chan spent most of his time running down gamblers; that was also Apana’s major job. In “The Black Camel”, it is mentioned that Chan has 27 years of service on the job; Apana by the time of the writing of “The Black Camel”, would have served approximately the same length of time.

Chan’s method of inquiry on a case was to investigate the human heart. Apana, too, was a keen student of the human heart and character. Neither Chan nor Apana drank alcoholic beverages. Both Chan and Apana resisted many and all attempts of bribery; as Chan says “All those years on the force, beset with temptations, but always honest, always irreproachable,” (“Keeper Of The Keys”).

In two Chan novels there appears an Inspector Duff: For many years Apana worked under a Chief of Detectives named McDuffie. In “The Keeper Of The Keys”, there is a Chinese servant named Ah Sing, who spoke in a high shrill voice and used broken English. Interestingly, Apana’s given first name was “Ah Ping”, and he too spoke broken English in a high shrill voice. In appearance, Chan was fat, but Apana was slim. The device of polarity is often used by authors to disguise the original that a character is based on (see above, Rose being Chan’s oldest daughter and in actuality Rose was Apana’s youngest daughter)

It is easy to see from the items mentioned above that the similarities between Chan and Apana are more than just cursory.

I will be posting items from time-to-time, about Chang Apana and Charlie Chan here. It is my hope that this blog will be an open forum to discuss things of interest concerning Detective Chang Apana and Charlie Chan.